Written by Dylan Brandsema
Since its US release a little over a month ago, The Babadook seems to have become the most highly praised horror film of 2014, and not without good reason. Despite having a rather brief limited theatrical run and straight-to-VOD release shortly after, The Babadook, through all its widespread critical acclaim, has proved itself to be one of the must-see movies of the year.
The Babadook is a movie with a simple premise, but a unique delivery. The story centers around a struggling widow (portrayed wonderfully by the luminous Essie Davis), who begins to realize that the tales her troubled son tells about seeing a monster described in one of children’s book is all too real, and the two become haunted by the creature. Essentially, it’s your basic haunted house story, which gives it all the potential to become generic, throw-away horror schlock, but it’s the performances, key pacing, along with some impeccable and meticulous directing by newcomer Jennifer Kent that makes The Babadook a one-of-a-kind experience.
The film doesn’t hesitate in getting into the thick of it, and jumps right into the immediate plot only a few minutes in, which works pretty well for its brisk 95-minute run time. This is refreshing at first, but after a while, however, it begins to feel a little bit rushed. The were moments in the first act where it feels like you’ve jumped into the movie in the middle, or that you’ve missed scenes you feel were important, but in reality, it just moves along very quickly. This is a flaw in the film that seems to be distracting to an extent for a good portion of the beginning of the story, but after a while, it’s easy to adapt to, and in the long run it doesn’t matter.
As stated, the primary highlight of The Babadook are the performances. In his cinematic debut, child actor Noah Wiseman is fantastic as the young Samuel. But the show-stealer, and the main reason to watch the film is Essie Davis as Samuel’s distraught mother Amelia. Davis, who is arguably most known for her roles in The Matrix Reloaded and its sequel, The Matrix Revolutions, is an actress who has never really received much acclamation for her work. With The Babadook she gives what is undoubtedly the best performance of her career, and the extensive applause she’s been awarded because of it is more than rightfully deserved. Fans of the film have started petitions to get her an Oscar nomination, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if such a thing were to happen.
Of course with an horror movie, the main kicker, and the deciding factor as to whether or not the movie is a success is the question “Is it scary?” It’s practically a guarantee that if you ask this question to anyone who’s seen the film that the answer will be a resounding “Yes!” Not only is The Babadook the single scariest horror film of 2014, but likely also among the scariest films of the decade so far — and it’s not difficult to say this without exaggeration. Why exactly is something that’s hard to describe, though director Jennifer Kent seems to borrow many horror elements from many of the classic Universal creature features of the ’30s and ’40s such as keeping things in shadows and never truly revealing what the characters are seeing on screen. She also takes aspects from the wave of ’70s and ’80s slasher flicks where objects that are marketed towards children (such as dolls, clowns, or children’s books) and transforms them into horror elements. It’s a culmination of horror elements that we know and love, but at the same time, it’s something completely new; something both terrifying and refreshing. It’s something that’s strenuous to characterize, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know the feeling.
One aspect of The Babadook that may seem polarizing to many is the ending. Without spoiling the details, it can be said the that film’s conclusion is wildly ambiguous, as is most of the film’s third act. While this may come across as startling at first, once the film’s over, audiences are bound to warm up to the open-ended finale. It’s very fitting of the story, and quite frankly, the most reasonable way to end the crazy experience that the film’s characters, as well as the audience, have to go through. As a whole, The Babadook is truly a one-of-a-kind film-going experience that’s assured to haunt you for hours after you’ve finished it, and it comes highly recommended as one of 2014’s finest movies. If by chance it’s still playing in a theater near you, it would be a wasted opportunity to snub seeing this one in a cinema. If not, it’s available on VOD everywhere, and it’s definitely worth checking out at least once.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
To watch The Babadook, click here for theater and VOD.